If someone had told Rob Doyle years ago that he’d one day be importing one-of-a-kind burls from Australia and Tasmania, he probably would have laughed about it. It wasn’t even on his radar.
“I used to be a welder in the Navy living in Hawaii. It wasn’t until my wife, Donna, and I moved to Oregon that I really even got into woodworking,” he recalls.
But, life sure has its twists and turns. Rob and Donna bought a lathe and decided to take a turning a class in Utah, where they met Skip Bellock, a woodcarver selling rare burls from the Land Down Under out of his garage. The Doyles were so impressed with the variety of woods Skip had for sale that they took a trunk load of burls home for their own projects. A few months later, Skip had back surgery and decided to sell the business. The Doyles bought the whole works. Suddenly they were in the burl business. The name was changed to Bad Dogs Burl Source, as a tongue-in-cheek tribute to their two yellow labs, Kuma and Kriscoe.
Evidently, the two sometimes naughty canines have kept life interesting over the years for the Doyles, so the business name just kind of stuck. Maybe mischief is part of the secret to the business’s continued success. “Bad Dogs” is coming up on two years of operation, and the customer list is growing. Even so, Bad Dogs is still a two-person operation. Rob spends his days in the shop power-washing, cutting and packing up the burls as well as answering customer calls. No operators standing by here — you talk directly to Rob. It’s become a full-time job. Donna oversees the website and manages the books — her day job is in the budget and finance division of another company.
But, Rob doesn’t mind the phone calls or customers who stop by the shop to have a closer look. “Without a doubt, talking to my customers and helping them find the right burls is the most fulfilling part of my job,” he says.
These days, Rob keeps a lot more inventory on hand than will fit in a garage. The Doyles moved to Massachusetts, where burls fill 2,500 square feet of inventory space. “Right now I have about 1,000 burls on hand, not including our stock of lumber and blanks for pens, gun stocks, knife handles and fly reel seats,” he says. Bad Dogs offers 26 different varieties of Australian and Tasmanian burls, plus a half dozen species of North American burls.
Why specialize in burls from so far away, you might be wondering? I was curious to find out.
Rob explains that both countries are rich in eucalyptus trees. There are more than 800 species of them, according to Rob, and they cover a vast range of area. Most of his inventory comes from western Australia. The Tasmanian supply is predominantly reclaimed from downed trees that were taken for lumber. The burls are considered waste to logging companies and are often burned. If you buy from Rob’s Tasmanian stock, your purchase may even have scorch marks on it, but burning doesn’t affect the dense burl inside.
While no one is quite sure why burls form on trees, eucalypts are prone to them, and they grow to huge proportions. These anomaly growths range widely in figure and color, which ranges from maroon to yellow and from pink to brown. But, although they’re plentiful, the Australian government strictly regulates the harvesting and export of its burls. Only a few suppliers can obtain the required permits to take them legally. Additionally, burls can only be culled from specific regions each season. Just the burls are removed; the trees are not cut down, and they heal from the process, making this a sustainable resource.
Obviously, no two burls are the same size or shape. Rob sells them by the pound, and each piece is displayed with photos on Bad Dog’s website. He provides general dimensions, a description and the unit price, not including shipping. Burls should be considered green or partially green. Australia fumigates them with methyl bromide to meet U.S. import requirements. Some are sealed with wax or Anchor-Seal®; others aren’t, depending on the wholesaler.
The Doyles’ website also offers a customer project gallery and updates on arriving inventory. Oh, and you can take a gander at those bad doggies in action, too…